Illustrated by Damon Smyth
Review by Tess Tabak
In this powerful new graphic novel, David F. Walker presents Frederick Douglass’s story in a compact narrative that young readers and adults alike can enjoy. With illustrations by Damon Smyth and short lessons that contextualize the history around Douglass’s life, this work will give readers a broader understanding of the end of slavery, and the events leading up to it.
Best known for his work on superhero comics like Luke Cage and Cyborg, Walker does justice to this real life hero’s story. In our Q&A with him, he discussed the importance of telling stories like this, and the need for black heroes, both fictional and historic.
I think Walker’s graphic novel, geared towards young readers, is crucial in making Frederick Douglass’s story accessible for kids. Last year, I was tutoring a 7th grader on the Civil War. I asked him when slavery had ended in America– he answered, with a straight face, that “racism ended in 1980 when Martin Luther King ended slavery”. He believed that, after months of covering slavery in school and despite living in one of the most diverse cities in America. Reading Douglass’s first memoir with him was a painful experience. Not only did he struggle over almost every single word of the text, he had no context for when the events happened. Slavery (and the 20th century, apparently) was a far off fantasy, an abstract myth. Continue reading
Review by E. Kirshe
Mandela and The General focuses on one stitch in Nelson Mandela’s legacy. In 1994, as the first post-Apartheid elections approach, and black South Africans are ready to take power with Mandela as their president, a militant faction of white South Africans – the Freedom Front – are ready to riot and fight to the death if need be. Attempting to avert a massacre Mandela held a series of secret meetings with Constand Viljoen- a former general of the South African army and later leader of the right-wing Freedom Front party.
“We must strive to find a political solution that reconciled White fears with black aspirations.”
As leaders of opposing factions they have the pull to keep their people from becoming violent and through reason, Mandela convinces Viljoen to reel his people in, to create true peace and not “the peace of graveyards.”
The book is told mainly through Viljoen’s recollections pulled from an interview author John Carlin conducted with him. The focus is on Viljoen, how he agreed to head the “white resistance”, how his twin brother helped broker the talks, and how Viljoen ultimately came to think of Mandela as “the greatest of men”. The story also serves to underpin what made Mandela capable of fostering this respect even from an enemy.
Review by E. Kirshe
Eclipse, author Zack Kaplan’s debut work, has a promising sci-fi premise that doesn’t quite find its footing.
In Eclipse, Earth’s sun has turned deadly and living things can no longer go out unprotected in daylight or they will be burned to a crisp. Much of the population burned alive the day the sun became deadly and the remaining humans now lead nocturnal lives. One day, a body is found in New York City. The victim was murdered by sunlight- literal writing on the wall says this is the work of a religion-crazed killer.
Bax, the main character, is immediately drawn into the narrative because he works outside during the day in an iceman suit. It’s believed the killer must be using one of these suits if he was able to keep a victim outdoors until they burned. Bax teams up with the police to protect the killer’s next target- the teenaged daughter of a solar industrialist.
The plot follows a lot of action story tropes. Grizzly loner with a sad past, Bax, must protect a teenaged girl from a psycho-killer. It’s not super clear why this mostly falls to him and not the police. He occasionally gets information before them and doesn’t share it even though there’s no clear reason not to trust them. There’s a slight corporate criticism element and the killer is a religious fanatic. It’s later revealed that his motivation is mostly that he went crazy (for good reasons) but the event that led to it has no clear motivation by the exposition we get. Also what’s unique about the killer doesn’t seem as important as it should but perhaps that’s explored more in later issues.
By E. Kirshe
Monstress Vol. 1 compiles a compelling story into a physically beautiful book. This volume is a collection of the first six issues of the Monstress series.
The surface plot is engaging fantasy fare- we have a young woman with a mysterious past driving her current path which includes danger and dark magic. She holds a dark power- in this case a literal demon living inside her- and is caught in the middle of an old war. Liu is a fantastic storyteller. She tackles a lot of different themes in this fairly short volume and does so almost seamlessly.
Review by Tess Tabak
There are no tidy endings in Bizarre Romance, the new short fiction collection by Audrey Niffenegger, with illustrations by Eddie Campbell.
Niffenegger’s stories are, as advertised, bizarre. In one, a woman inherits a house from a kindly elderly woman, and demolishes the house when she discovers something disturbing in the basement No resolution, no lessons learned.
My personal favorite in the collection is “Digging Up the Cat,” a bittersweet story about loss. A character digs up her old dead cat because her parents are moving and her mother insists that “it would be too weird to leave a box full of dead cat in the garden.” She describes in loving detail the act of removing her most recently dead cat from the freezer and adding it to the old cat’s box. Continue reading
Review by Tess Tabak
In Royal City volume 1: Next of Kin, a new graphic novel by Jeff Lemire, a family grapples with the ghost of their dead son. Tommy died in 1993, but he left an indelible presence on the Pikes.
Royal City starts when Patrick Pike comes home to visit his father, who’s just had a stroke. It slowly becomes clear that each character is seeing a different version of Tommy’s ghost. Patrick grapples with guilt about using his dead brother as the inspiration for so much of his writing. Patrick’s mother sees him as the priest he could have grown up to be. His sister sees him as the child she desperately wants to have. In this volume, Lemire doesn’t cover much ground in plot. He’s laying the latticework for future volumes, developing a rich family history and taking his time to set up the mystery of what happened to Tommy in 1993. Lemire is known for his literary, quietly plotted graphic novels, such as the award-winning Essex County. Continue reading
Review by Tess Tabak
Paper Girls, a new graphic novel by Brian K. Vaughn, is an enchanting read for all ages. Set in 1988, four paper girls band together for protection from thugs on Halloween night. However, the girls discover bigger problems afoot when a mysterious invasion threatens to tear apart their quiet suburban world.
Penned by the masterful Brian K. Vaughn, author of graphic novels like Runaways and Saga, Paper Girls is a gripping, fast-moving tale full of suburban nostalgia and mysterious intrigue. We follow Erin, Mackenzie, KJ and Tiffany as they struggle to figure out what’s happening to their town, and to find an adult who can help them. But when they find most of the other people in their town have vanished, they quickly realize that they’re on their own.
Most refreshingly of all, the heroines of Paper Girls are not one-dimensional tomboys. As this is the beginning of a series, we don’t know much about the girls yet, but the characterizing details Vaughn provides makes it clear that each of them is different: Mackenzie is the bravest of the group, becoming the first paper girl in the neighborhood. Erin is thoughtful, connecting details. When one of the “aliens” drops a chip with the Apple logo, Erin recognizes the logo from one of the computers at her school, and wonders if the “aliens” are actually visitors from the future. Continue reading